Munster SHC Semi-Final Preview: Cork vs. Waterford

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Thurles to witness another classic?

The second Munster SHC finalist will be revealed (provided no draw) on Sunday afternoon when Cork fresh from their thrilling victory over reigning All Ireland Champions Tipperary take on a Waterford side who enter the competition as one of the main All Ireland protagonists even before they hit the sliothar in anger. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

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Cork consistency the main talking point

Cork resurgence to continue?

Cork came into the Tipperary contest pretty much under the radar. Pundits identified that Tipperary were in a vulnerable place but doubted (like myself) that Cork would have the tenacity, physicality, work rate and defensive nous to cause the upset. All those traits were emphatically answered with a stirring performance at Semple Stadium.

A superb victory but it was only a Munster SHC Quarter-Final. No silverware secured. The result will mean nothing if Cork cannot advance to the provincial final and it will require another consistent high level of performance to deliver the goods, something that this Cork side has struggled to do in recent seasons.

NHL 1A survival looked like an arduous task for Cork but the team hit the ground running with a comprehensive win over Clare in the opening game of the league. However, the inability to string consecutive quality performances eluded the side during the league campaign; evident in their final regular league season home win over Tipperary and then followed up by a meek home loss to Limerick in the NHL Quarter Final a week later, a result which was a shock to many.

For Cork to win on Sunday, all lines need to fire on all cylinders like against Tipperary. The pace and tempo from the Rebels caught the eye throughout; the debutantes were fearless and provided the platform for the likes of Harnedy, Horgan and Lehane to shine. Cork defensively stood out as well with Ellis and Cahalane providing solid platforms down the spine. When the back line was breached, Nash in goals was sublime and his puck-out strategy a vital component to victory.

Cork’s surprise performance and victory over Tipperary means that they are now out in the open, in full view. We will know an awful lot more about this Cork setup come Sunday evening. If this side deliver anything, then they have to be taken seriously as a Liam McCarthy contender; otherwise with a dangerous qualifier route, they could be in danger of being eliminated before August. High stakes indeed.

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Now or never for the Deise

Waterford’s Golden Opportunity

Given the struggles experienced by Kilkenny and Tipperary already in the championship, Waterford will not have a better chance of advancing to an All Ireland final and potentially winning the coveted Liam McCarthy. Deise manager Derek McGrath has assembled a squad with the right balance of youth and experience and it will be interesting what is different between this team to other seasons.

Waterford’s fitness and conditioning has never being an issue. The adoption of the sweeper system in recent years saw criticism from certain quarters but it had the desired effect; nullifying to a certain extent opposition forward lines and preventing goals scored against them. Some pundits will point to Tipperary and Waterford last season who did score goals in the business end of the season.

The Deise have several standout performers. Noel Connors at corner back is one of the best defenders in the game. His man marking duties will be pivotal on Sunday. O’Mahony and De Burca in the half back line will look to set the defensive platform with astute game management and distribution. Jamie Barron excelled in the midfield area last season and his pace and scoring prowess will be difficult for Cork to counteract. His running lines from deep are a real asset for Waterford.

Waterford forward line units have the potential to let loose on Sunday. Cork defenders have another serious challenge on their hands. Do they focus their attentions on the likes of Austin Gleeson and try to double mark the current hurler of the year? If they do, they leave the risk of being exposed inside with the likes of Patrick Curran, Shane Bennett in the ranks. When you add to the mix the likes of Brick Walsh and Kevin Moran, there is an abundance of quality in this Waterford lineup to punish Cork defensive sloppiness.

It will be intriguing to find out how Waterford have evolved from last season’s championship. The sweeper system limited Waterford’s ability in the inside full forward line to provide a serious goal threat. Goals win championships and if Waterford are to reach the Liam McCarthy summit, the goal scoring strike rate has to improve. Maurice Shanahan or Tom Devine potentially could be players to provide this threat but will they get the game minutes in an ultra competitive squad?

Verdict

A tough encounter beckons this weekend. Cork’s early win against Tipperary has provided Waterford with plenty of food for thought. Can Cork string back to back performances together? Waterford potentially may start this contest slowly but their pace and conditioning looks key in counteracting Cork’s key traits which beat Tipperary. Cork defensively were let off the hook on a couple of occasions by Tipperary; a second time looks unlikely and I expect Waterford to provide a marker for the rest of the championship to take note of. Cork looking to the qualifiers as the Deise will advance after an even first half to win by at least six points.

Waterford know that time is running out for certain key individuals in the panel; this should be the spur to see them over the line and avoid a treacherous qualifier series route. Austin Gleeson potentially could be the key individual of the contest and Mark Ellis’ will be asked to roam the pitch to counteract the talisman; expect space inside for Bennett inside to do untold damage. Bright skies in Thurles so this fixture should be an absolute cracker. Roll on Sunday!